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2018/2019

by: Tim Kelley


Mid April 2019: The Last Quiet Crust Ski At Craigie Creek?

There are two sides to Hatcher Pass.  The east side, and the west side.  The masses of people side, and the private side.  The zoo side, and the quiet side.

I don't do zoos.  If you peruse this website, that fact will probably be apparent.  The number of times in the last 10 years I have skied areas on the east side of Hatcher Pass I could count with one hand.  And have fingers left over.  I'm a Hatcher Pass west-side guy.  Craigie Creek, Bald Mountain Ridge, Shorty Creek, Black Mountain, Willow Mountain, Purches Creek, Herning/Willow Sled Trail, Willow-Fishhook Road when it's not plowed.  For decades this area has been one of my go-to skiing venues.

But recent news indicates that the zoo will soon be coming to the west side.  The dark side will be coming to the good side.  A snowcat and helicopter operation will likely get a permit to start bringing skiers and boarders to ridges in this area.

Is this the end of the world?  No.  The helicopter and snowcat noise will be obnoxious.  And more disruptive to the wildlife that is unaccustomed to it than to me.  And having a snowcat road will have pluses and minuses.  Plus if it is groomed smooth.  Minus if it is a rough trench that skiers and snowmobilers will have to contend with.  But I'll still remain a west-side guy.  And I'll still ski west-side venues.

But is this the end to quiet on the west side of Hatcher Pass?  Again, I would say - No.  These operations will likely be massively hyped at first and get a short-term bump.  But then the clientele will figure out that these ridges are podunk compared to Valdez, Haines or the Tordrillos.  The 'radness' will be short-lived.  Then the economic realities will set in.  Not enough clients.  Too far a distance to transport people for too little vertical.  Previous cat and heli operations in Hatcher Pass failed, even though they were better located.

Craigie Creek neighboring areas have a long history of reclaiming quiet.  Many gold mining operations here have come and gone over time.  They were once noisy and disruptive activities.  But in the end, the laws of economics returned these valleys to quiet.  My bet is that this will be the same fate for the heli and cat skiing operations that are proposed for this area.

Pictures above and below of skiing "dust on crust" at Craigie Creek in April 2019.
A sight never seen before.  Snowcat tracks going up the Craigie Creek valley.  Maybe a test run by the folks applying for the state permit?  A harbinger of what's to come?
 
Mid April 2019: Curry Ridge Trail

A few years ago the Alaska Department of Natural Resources made a really nice new campground in Denali State Park, at Milepost 135.4 on the Parks Highway.  The K'seugi Ken Campground.  And a new trail was built from this campground to access Curry Ridge.  The Curry Ridge Trail.  I had never been on this new trail before.  So I figured ... what better way to do the trail than to crust ski it.  You will have the trail, the views and new country all to yourself.  And I was right.

This new Curry Ridge trail has a lot of switchbacks and ascends gradually.  So you can skate up it and descend down it without a lot of trouble.  And because it is a new trail, it has brush free shoulders now that make a good zone for skate skiing.  It's not easy skiing.  It's challenging, but doable skate-ski skiing.

Once I got to the wide crest area of Curry Ridge, I found lots of good crust cruising on sparsely treed terrain and along Lake 1787.  There were old snowmobile tracks on the ridge.  Not sure how they access this area.  Not by the Curry Ridge Trail.  Maybe from cabins near the Denali Princess Hotel?  But the snogo tracks weren't plentiful enough to diminish the quality of crust skiing.

Oh yeah ... and the views weren't bad up on the ridge.

 
 GPS track: ~15 miles. Skiing above Lake 1787. The Curry Ridge Trail.
 
 Lots of super-smooth crust snow in the Upper Susitna Valley this spring. A split glacial erratic on Curry Ridge. Moose's Tooth, Broken Tooth.
 
 Alaska DNR map of Curry Ridge Trail.
 
Early April 2019: Parks Highway, Milepost 173

From the Parks Highway Milepost 173 parking lot, we skied above the road between Hurricane Gulch and the McKinley Spires.  A good place to park and an easy access to a fun crust skiing venue.

 
 
Late March and Early April 2019: Broad Pass Crust Skiing, Alaska Range Side

We spent several days skiing areas of Broad Pass, mostly out of the Milepost 201 parking lot.  Here are some pictures from skiing the Alaska Range side of Broad Pass.

   
 
Late March 2019: Skiing Colorado, In Alaska

Skied the mining road from MP 187 that leads to the Gold Zone Mine.  Fun skiing new country.  But only made it to the Chulitna River because the trail was so brutally snowmobile bumpy.  In the summer, monster truck tours follow this route.

 
Late March 2019: Broad Pass Crust Skiing, Talkeetna Mountains Side

Skiing the Talkeetna Mountains side of Broad Pass near Cantwell, Alaska, from Parks Highway Milepost 201.  Great crust skiing conditions, very few snowmobile tracks.

A new extreme sport ... beaver house shredding.  Ha!
 
Late March 2019: A Few Road Trip To Canada Pictures
We went on a road trip to try and become better van dwellers/travelers (we're newbies).  Not much snow in Canada, but found some skiing at higher elevations and on lakes  Good times.
Skis at the ready. Kluane Lake, YT
Haines, AK Haines Highway, BC Lake Laberge, YT
Log Cabin, BC
   
We keep our van quite tidy compared to the residents of this place in Salcha, AK that we drove by.
 
Late February 2019: Knik Glacier, From A New (For Me) Starting Point

Some Valley mountain bikers recently told me about the Knik Glacier Tours start for traveling to the Knik Glacier.  I checked it out.  It's a better place to park than the Hunter Creek bridge area.  It's nice of the Knik Glacier Tours to offer this parking area for people to use.  And thanks to the Valley bikers for telling me about this place!

Not much snow on the Knik River floodplain.  6-8 inches of loose powder.  So conditions right now are much better for fat biking than xc skiing.  Too may rocks showing to make the skiing as enjoyable as you would like.  But skiing on the Knik Glacier lake was good.

GPS track: 24 miles. Left turn at mile 8.5 on the Knik River Road.  Follow the Knik Glacier Tours signs. Parking area. Hunter Creek crossing.  Close to start, so you can bring Neos or hip boots and stash them.  I used trash compactor bags (not recommended).
Groomed fat bike trail. Had to hike a mile and a half or so to get past this rocky section. At the Knik Glacier. It's trickier getting to the pinch point this year than the last 2 years.
Not as many ice bergs this year.  But there are some HUGE bergs.  This one must be 1000 feet long(?!).   A cool "slot canyon" between ice bergs that you can ski through.
 
Early February 2019: Some Short, But New (For Us),Trails In The Su Valley

Happened across a couple of short trails in the Su Valley that my wife or I hadn't skied before.

The first one was a trail from the K'esugi Ken campground at Milepost 135 on the Parks Highway to the Lower Troublesome Creek pull-out.  Looks like a park ranger with a wide track snowmobile packed this trail from the K'esugi Ken Campground/ Curry Ridge Trail to Lower Troublesome Creek and back.  The trail had flagging all the way, so it is apparently an established route and not just a random snowmobile track.  I messed up with my phone and had the GPS turned off.  So no GAIA route info.  And the route was not marked on the trail maps at the campground.  My guess is that the trail is about 5 miles one way.  The trail skied nicely.

Also, while skiing the X-Y Lake Trails in Talkeetna, I noticed a trail called the "Erratic Loop" had been dragged.  I skied this trail and checked out the big 30 foot tall(?) glacial erratic it goes by.  Cool trail.

The red line on the above map shows the general location of this trail between the K'esugi Ken campground and Lower Troublesome Creek on the Parks Highway.  Gradual grades through mixed forest.  Nice classic skiing.

Expand the map above to see the Talkeetna Glacial Erratic Loop (marked in black).  If you feel the urge, you can scramble up the erratic from the south side (north side is shown above).
 
Early February 2019: Emerging from the fog, of illness

My wife and I got tagged with the 6 week, endless-cough flu that's been going around.  No fun.  Attempts at skiing have often been punctuated with coughing and gagging spells.  What a joy.  Getting back on top of things now.  So hopefully start recovering lost fitness and getting some ski trips in.

 
Winter 2018/2019: No new ski trips yet ...

A change this year is that our ski trips will sometimes be supported by a campervan, that we recently drove up from the Lower 48.  The campervan should help us increase our range and ski at new locations.  The next chapter ... xc ski trips, based out of a "van down by the river"!

Wildlife seen on the way to Alaska.
 
** Last year's skiing trip reports **
 

Alaska Backcountry XC Skiing